It’s not the cheeriest topic to take on at this festive time of year, granted, but last Thursday I came face to face with what might be the future for many more UK households, if we don’t address the issue of energy demand. Blackouts!
Back in 2009 we published some research which showed that – because of the recession we were in – the great British public thought we all needed to adopt a wartime spirit. To get a better understanding of what really happened, I met with people who had lived through the blitz and rationings of the Second World War. I remember at the time being hugely inspired by the courage, determination, spirit and humour that saw them through these incredibly tough times. I can’t help feeling though, that unless you were actually there in the thick of it, you just cannot truly comprehend the day-to-day struggles of people living in that time.
Fast forward to 2011 (almost 12) and most of us are living very comfortably thank you. But that’s only part of the story today. As we know, many people simply cannot afford to pay their fuel bills, and many people get cut off in the middle of the night because their electricity key has run empty.
I’m hardly going to win the sympathy vote, but last week I was woken up in the morning by my young daughter telling me it was dark. “Of course it’s dark darling, it’s 4am!” I said. As it turns out, it was really dark – I discovered she was correct and we had no internal lighting or heating in the house.
A quick phone call to the emergency helpline led to a swift response, although much to our joint consternation, neither we nor our supplier could find the source of the fault. More specialists arrived on the scene during that day and eventually after much staring at the pavements and use of computers the fault was located adjacent to the main road.
The culprit to this particular blackout was some extremely old technology which had finally given up the ghost (I think there may be an analogy here relating to the UK energy infrastructure!) Work went on through the hours of darkness with rain pouring down and traffic lights and arc lights providing a spot of glimmer.
I have to say I have nothing but praise for the men from SSE who took on the repairs in such difficult circumstances, but it was a swift reminder if we needed one of how reliant we still are on the flick of a switch.
It was remarkable how quickly our house became extremely cold despite the best efforts of stoking our open fire and cooking soup for the neighbours on the only gas ring in the neighbourhood.
I’ll never forget meeting those survivors of the Blitz and rationings, but the impact of what they told me now struck a chord closer to home. My life had suddenly got disrupted and things were not in my usual control. My situation was only temporary and the communal element to this story was quite fun. But it wouldn’t be fun if this was a regular occurrence. I can pay for my bills and fix things quite quickly.
I was left reflecting on how I might have coped as a vulnerable 80 year-old living on my own, or a single parent on a low income without the support of friends and family. It truly reminds us that we need to conserve every aspect in terms of energy use or this could be the future for many of us.
There are many things to learn from history, but perhaps the lessons of how to manage limited resources is the one we should have top of the agenda.